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I got one of my first impressions of the social status of the accordion from an article that appeared twenty or so years ago in Time magazine. The writer decried'in laughable terms'the "menace'? of the instrument, the sound of which he found abhorrent, given all its usual associations with the (underrated) genre of the polka. I can't remember many of the details of the piece, other than a vague sense that it was probably a response to the accordion's contemporaneous appearance in a number of popular recordings.
Anyone who has ever heard Guy Klucevsek would know that the fellow from Time didn't know what he was missing; and it is particularly unfortunate that Klucevsek's latest recording, The Well-Tampered Accordion , would have been completely over his head. The album is a collection of mostly miniatures, mostly penned by the accordionist, mostly gathered in suites, mostly characterized by an uncanny "old world charm.'? All of it is unaccompanied accordion, thus highlighting the instrument's seemingly limitless capacity to express a mood of mournful solitude (a capacity that to my ears is rivaled only by the harmonica).
Like its baroque namesake, The Well-Tampered Accordion is a compendium of the possibilities that a gifted artist can pull out of a single instrument. There are jigs and reels ("Sicilians in New Orleans'? and "Ebony Mandolin'? are exemplary), a few ballads (several of which can be found in the opening suite, "Four Portraits'?), and even a short burst of what might be called "minimalist program music'? (the hypnotic "Rocking the Boat'?). And then there are the covers. Apparently at the urging of John Zorn (whose own turn toward "old world charm'? has produced essential recordings like Bar Kokhba ), Klucevsek was induced to arrange two Burt Bacharach warhorses, "One Less Bell to Answer'? and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.'?
Of course, I use the word "covers'? very loosely here, since the tunes are more or less unrecognizable unless you know you're supposed to be looking for them ("Bell,'? for instance, becomes an eerie foray in to the squeezebox's uppermost registers; who knew it could go that high?). This portion of the album, then, demonstrates what is surely one of the main insights of jazz: composition is always re-composition.
In short, and at the risk of sounding (unintentionally) ironic: this is simply one of the best all-accordion albums I've ever heard.
Track Listing: Four Portraits:
1. Clarissa (Mrs. Dalloway)
2. Blues for Richard
3. Laura (Mrs. Brown)
4. Virginia (Mrs. Woolf)
5. Sicilians in New Orleans
6. Acadians in Maine
7. Germans in the Midwest
8. Acadians in Louisiana
9. Mexicans in Texas
10. Lament for the Accordion Maker
11. Basques in Montana
12. Poles in Chicago
13. Epilogue (Road Music)
14. One Less Bell to Answer
15. Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My (Wives and Lovers) Head
The Well-Tampered Accordion:
16. No. 1: Shape-Shifter
17. No. 2: Ebony Mandolin
18. No. 3: Rocking the Boat
19. No. 4: Collapsible Hornpipe
20. No. 5: Time Passing
21. No. 6: Hungarian Hummingbird
22. No. 7: Sunday Morning - Eight Legs
(after Lucien Freud)
23. No. 8: AOK Chorale
24. No. 9: Pink Elephant
25. No. 10: Song of the Little Prince
(for Teiji Ito)
26. No. 11: Dance!
27. No. 12: Epilogue/Fantasy
(in memoriam Brian Rehr)
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.